For the most part, woodworking has been a solitary activity for me. Over the years, I’ve taught myself most of what I know. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way — and either cursed or laughed about them without any witnesses or commiserators. At the same time, by going it “solo” so much of the time, I haven’t really shared the successes and breakthroughs that also happen as we gain experience. It’s been a pretty quiet life in the shop.
Then the other day a new friend of mine asked me to do a small commissioned piece for him. He’s a pipe smoker and wanted a pipe rack he’d seen online. These racks are made by hand in Europe, and while he was more than willing to pay several hundred dollars for it, his long-distance queries to order one of them had gone unanswered. That’s where I came in.
“I’ll pay you to make this for me,” was his simple request.
I told him I’d be glad to do it, but I had ulterior motives. You may know that my family and I moved from central Ohio to Virginia this past summer. I’m still the new guy in town, so hey, time to make some friends. And, it almost pained me to see someone pay that much money for what amounts to about $30 worth of wood and a little hardware. (We woodworkers can see right through that, but a lot of other people can’t.)
My buddy didn’t know what was coming when I told him that he should stop over and help me build it. That was clearly beyond his expectation, but he said he’d give it a shot. And so, last weekend, he came for an afternoon of woodworking. Probably the first woodworking he had done since shop class in school.
This wasn’t a difficult project — a couple circles for a Lazy Susan base, an upright with slots for his pipes, and a half-lap joint to connect it to a vertical support. I glued up some panels beforehand so we could dive right in.
Before he knew it, he was scroll-sawing those base parts to size and refining their shapes on a disk sander. The first circle went pretty slow for him, but his caution gave way quickly to confidence. The second disk took him about half as much time. I routed the pipe slots with a jig, but he was involved with determining their spacing and size. He tried them out, fitting several pipes in place, and we refined them a little at a time. As you might expect, there was plenty of sanding to follow — he knew it was coming too. But he was a good sport about it, and deep down I think he actually enjoyed the process of running the random-orbit sander through the grits. I eased the edges of the parts with a trim router, but next time, I’m putting the router in his hands.
A few days later we got together again to assemble the parts. I drove a few screws, and then so did he. What began as an admission from him that “I’ve never done this before, just so you know,” became a good time for us both. There was more talk than woodworking going on mostly, but still, that simple project took shape right before his eyes. Yesterday after spraying it with a couple coats of lacquer, I delivered it to him. Today it’s settled into his pipe collection like it’s been there all along. I think he’s proud of it. We don’t have another project planned just yet, but I’m hopeful there will be a few more to come. I think there will be.
Now he’s got his finished product, but I definitely gained something from this experience as well. It feels pretty darn good to share the shop with a friend. I think I’ve missed out on some nice opportunities over the years by keeping woodworking so “close to the vest.”
Here’s to all of you who share this good fun we call woodworking. Thanks to a $30 project, now I know why you do it: Woodworking really is better when shared.
Catch you in the shop,
Chris Marshall, Field Editor